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What do Fish, Tofu and Walking have in Common?

December 4, 2017

The answer can be said with one word, Japan.

"The Japanese diet is the iPod of food," revealed Naomi Moriyama, co-author of Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo Kitchen, "It concentrates the magnificent energy of food into a compact and pleasurable size."

When it comes to inflammation, a known cause of back pain, it’s true that you are what you eat. Many foods have been shown to reduce inflammation, as well as to increase it. So when you have back pain, diet may help you avoid it. You just have to carefully choose your foods so you can reduce back pain and maintain good nutrition just like people do who follow a Japanese diet.

Not only can men expect to live 80 years and women 86, but their world life expectancy ranks number one on our planet.

Comparing the numbers to the U.S., where a female can expect to live to about 80 and a male, 75, you can also forecast that Japanese citizens' have a superior quality of life, averaged at 75 years. It's safe to say that they are abundantly healthier and disability-free, the World Health Organization reports.

To find out why researchers at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo studied the habits of thousands of men and women who reside in Japan. And the results are in: fish, tofu and walking (hence the title, see what we did there?)


Japanese men and women alike eat a healthy balance of grains, proteins, and veggies.

"The magic of Japan-style eating is a healthier balance of filling, delicious lower-calorie foods, presented with beautiful portion control in pretty little dishes and plates," Moriyama remarked.

This method of dining prompts you to "eat with your eyes," as Moriyama depicted by enjoying the attraction of your food. By following this structure, you'll want to slow down and savor every bite — meaning you will eat less, therefore giving your brain enough time to realize your body is full and not continue eating just because it's on your plate.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., our lives are getting shorter for the first time in decades because ultra-processed foods make up almost 60 percent of the averaged U.S. diet.

Dr. Christina Lasich, medical director for Community Recovery Resources in Grass Valley, California, said, “In the past ten years, researchers have found a solid link between sugar consumption and inflammation. Spikes in blood sugar levels promote inflammation and inflammation leads to chronic pain.”

Dr. Lasich continued, “A normal, healthy body can naturally control inflammation; but, this regulatory system does not work well when being attacked by the evils of sugar.”

Breaking it Down

Moriyama broke it down for us Backers to find out what goes into a Japanese diet that works to reduce inflammation and relieve your back pain.

Lay a Rice Foundation. The Japanese diet entails large portions of rice — ironically it's six times more per person than the average American's diet. A small bowl is served with normally every meal, including breakfast. A low-fat, complex carbohydrate rice supports to fill you up on fewer calories, leaving less room for fattening foods such as processed cookies and pastries.

Rice without butter or oil.Caption: For additional wellness advantages, consider serving rice the Japanese way, cooked and eaten with no butter or oil.

Veggie Overload. "Japan is kind of a vegetable-crazed nation," Moriyama replied. When Japanese women were questioned on what home-cooked meal they prefer to prepare, "mixed vegetables simmered in seasoned broth" earned the highest merit. Red bell peppers, green beans, zucchini, eggplant, onions, burdock, tomatoes, green peppers, lettuce, carrots, spinach, bamboo shoots, beets, lotus root, turnips, daikon (or giant white radish), shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes and seaweed (or sea vegetables), including kombu, nori, and wakame all hold a spot in the Japanese diet.

Veggies are usually served simmered in tangy broths, stir-fried into a small bit of canola oil, or lightly steamed — whichever you prefer, just know that Japan approves.

A Good Catch. Fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon, fresh tuna, mackerel, sardines, and herring are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids — known for their heart-health and mood-boosting benefits. Japanese residents normally consume less red meat that contains artery-clogging saturated fat that, if eaten to excess, can lead to obesity, which can increase back pain. In order to have a strong back, you need to have a strong core.

Soy What. When eaten in balance, natural soy products, such as tofu and edamame beans, are a fabulous protein option to red meat. They have little to no saturated fat. Japanese meals frequently add more than one soy-based dish, including miso soup or chunks of tofu. Don't be afraid of tofu.

Delicious Desserts. A typical Japanese dessert is a combination of seasonal fruits, peeled, sliced and arranged on a pleasant looking dish. People do appreciate desserts such as ice cream and cakes, BUT they're habitually submitted in smaller portions and subtler flavors compared to U.S. desserts. Consider a cup of Japanese green tea to end any meal.

Healthy Choices. It takes just a few small adjustments to make the Japanese diet even healthier to help treat your back pain. The first requires swapping the universal white rice for brown rice. Japan's original ancient power food ironically was brown rice, which is a great whole-grain, high-fiber source of "good carbs," Moriyama explained.

The second change involves decreasing sodium (or your salt) intake. Ironically, the only negative aspect of a Japanese diet is the amount of sodium they use because of the large amounts of soy sauce and pickled foods they choose.

Rice, fish and tofu. All great options for anti-inflammation.Caption: When available, opt for lower-sodium varieties of miso, soy sauce, and teriyaki sauce — and even then, you should use them in small amounts. On a piece of sushi, for example, just a drop or two of lower-sodium soy sauce is all you need.

Tanner Ellsworth, a Rochester Hills, Michigan, resident who recently visited Japan on a missionary trip decided to forgo his American roots and implanted himself as a true tourist, submerging himself deep in the Japanese diet. He explained, "I never felt as balanced as I did when I ate food in Japan."

Ellsworth also decided to put on his walking shoes and truly take in the sites. Little did he know that choosing to walk to a destination is another reason why Japanese residents live longer healthier lives.


Instilled at a young age, the advantages of remaining physically active actually carries over into adulthood.

According to the American Heart Association, inactive children are likely to become inactive adults. However, the good news is that physical activity improves with controlling weight, decreasing pain levels, reducing blood pressure and enhancing psychological well-being, such as your quality of life.

Researchers also found that Japan has particularly high rates (98.3 percent) of walking or biking to school among children compared with other similar income countries. This is connected to Japan’s low levels of childhood obesity.

The World Health Organization reported that proper levels of physical activity in 5 to 17-year-olds add to the improvement of healthy bones, muscles, joints, as well as a healthy cardiovascular system, coordination and movement control while improving authority over symptoms of anxiety and depression. Crazy how all of these things literally exacerbate back pain. Take notes people!

Start small. Instead of driving to a local appointment, try a leisurely walk. It doesn't have to be a sprint — just whatever your body can handle.
Woman outdoors walking her dog. Being active is important to staying healthy. Caption: If walking to an appointment will not work due to your location, instead of watching TV all night, go for a nice walk around your neighborhood —invite a friend or bring your pet along.

Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs. Every little bit helps.

Closing it Out

We are not telling you to book a one-way ticket to Japan. We are simply sharing the benefits of Japanese culture in a fun way to remember how everything connects to your back pain. Now, you don't have to be a master chef. You don't have to be a marathon runner. Like we said, every little bit helps. Opt for more fish, vegetables, and fruit. Choose smaller portions and healthy alternatives. Remember to eat slowly and stop when you are full. Try walking or biking instead of driving.

Crazy how a balanced diet and regular exercise is key to a healthier life with less back pain. When in doubt eat fish or tofu and walk it out.

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